We lived in Shillong in Meghalaya for two years when my father was posted there with the Indian Air Force. This is where we learned a lot about India’s rare orchids which quite happily grew in the surrounding jungles. In fact, there was a beautiful orchid that was near our house, near Laitumkhrah, in the bustling city center. The house overlooked the old racecourse and the beauty of the effortlessly growing orchids meant that we enjoyed it as a family for the years we stayed there. However, my father was always concerned that the orchids were harvested indiscriminately and sold to visitors for a pittance.
According to the WWF, Indian orchids are under pressure from illegal harvesting and exploitation for the illegal trade. Out of the vast diversity of 1256 species of orchids recorded in India, 307 are endemic to our country and only 11 species are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
To highlight the threat posed to orchids by illegal trade and to increase the ability of law enforcement officials to identify the 11 protected orchid species, TRAFFIC and WWF-India developed a poster on legally protected species of orchids whose trade or any other form of use is prohibited.
The poster was released on September 7, ahead of Save the Himalayas Day, as the Himalayan region of India is home to many species of orchids, with the Eastern Himalayas showing maximum diversity of orchids. and related information and will assist law enforcement agencies in identifying orchid species in illegal trade. The poster will also help educate students, educators and the general public about orchids.
Since orchids are very sensitive to climatic changes in their habitat and have extensive and interconnected symbiotic relationships with organisms such as insects, plants and fungi, their presence is a positive indicator of ecosystem health and the biodiversity of their habitat. Orchids play a vital ecological role by being a crucial part of any forest ecosystem through a very complex mutual relationship with other organisms.
Orchids are one of the most endangered flowering plants in the world. Illegal harvesting and overexploitation pose a serious threat with species like Renanthera spp and a few slipper orchids such as Cypripedium, Paphiopedilum showing significant impact from the practice.
Orchids are illegally harvested and traded for ornamental plants, traditional medicine and food10. The growing demand for it is leading to unsustainable harvesting practices.
Orchids love Eulophia dabia and Dactylorhiza hatagirea populations succumb to overexploitation.
Crepidium acuminatum, Habenaria edgeworthii and Habenaria intermedia are taken from the wild for their medicinal use. They are used in the manufacture of Chyawanprash, a popular dietary supplement in India. Protected species of orchids such as Blue Vanda, Ladies Slipper have been seized in India with seizures reported in West Bengal and Assam and by the Department of Revenue Intelligence.
Mr. Ravi Singh, General Secretary and CEO of WWF India, said: “Orchids are found throughout the Himalayan region of India. Time and again, new species of orchids are discovered in the region, reflecting the hidden treasure of the Himalayan floral treasures. Conservation measures in the Himalayan region are essential to conserve a myriad of species, including orchids and the ecosystems they represent”.
Dr Merwyn Fenerandes, Coordinator of TRAFFIC’s India office, added: “Such a diversity of orchids, unsustainable harvesting practices and illegal trade, coupled with limited safeguards and a lack of awareness, make the future of orchids a serious concern. By publishing this identification poster, our joint efforts to stop the illegal trade in orchids receive a strong and thoughtful boost.
In India, orchids are illegally harvested from the wild and traded as ornamental plants, used in traditional medicine and also eaten as food. The growing demand for orchids for various purposes is leading to unsustainable harvesting practices. Globally, this second largest family of flowering plants has some of the most prized and traded flowers. In India, protected species of orchids such as Blue Vanda and Ladies Slipper have been found in wildlife seizures.
Orchids are one of the most popular ornamental plants marketed as ﬂowers and potted plants in the world. The term “orchid” is derived from the Greek word “orchis” and taxonomically placed in the order Asparagales under the family Orchidaceae. Orchids belong to the second largest family of flowering plants and there are over 29,500 species of orchids in the world.
The IUCN Global Red List has assessed approximately 1641 species of orchids (July 2020) of which 747 are classified as ‘threatened’ and 197 as ‘critically endangered’. India is home to 1,256 species belonging to 155 genera. Of these, 307 species are endemic to the country.
Fossil evidence suggests that orchids appeared more than 80 to 100 million years ago.
Orchids have the smallest seeds among flowering plants in the world and they are very diﬃcult to cultivate requiring unique micro-habitats.
- About 8% of all flowering plants are orchids.
- Orchid species have been recognized for their medicinal properties in the ancient Indian therapeutic system of Ayurveda.
- In India, Arunachal Pradesh is home to around 40% of the country’s orchid species and is often called the “Orchid Paradise of India”.
Doctor Marianne of Nazareth
(MCC, JNC and SJCC Auxiliary Faculty and Freelance Science and Environment Journalist)